Politics

Jun 3, 2013 8:34 PM by Erin Schermele - MTN News

MT ballot initiative aims to shed light on "Dark Money"

HELENA - Backers of a bill that died in the Montana House during this year's legislative session are hoping to get it on the ballots in 2014.

The Dark Money initiative would require more transparency during political campaigns.

"There's a great chance that they will take many of us out in this next election, because money talks," said Senator Ed Buttrey, who didn't vote in a way that satisfied Dark Money groups this session - saying he was threatened.

"It was told to me, 'you are dead in the next election. We are coming after you'."

But despite fear of possible retaliation, Buttrey, along with several republican lawmakers are fighting back.

The group is called Montana Base. And their issue is with 501(c)4 organizations. Also known as Dark Money groups.

"Throughout the entire session there was this threat, and purity from the Republican Party and if your weren't pure enough. Meaning they told you didn't vote that way, then you have this underlying threat, sometimes it was a vocalized threat that they were going to remove you from office," said Buttrey.

Montana Base says during the election cycle, out of state groups and extremist donors spend thousands of dollars on ads to sway voters. Not always truthfully.

Because of how Dark Money groups are legally structured, they are not required to reveal who donates to them. Which is what this ballot initiative aims to change.

"You can say whatever you want; you just have to put your name with it. And as you know, with the letters to the editor, when you sign your name, they have a different level of credibility. When it's an anonymous blog, people write all kinds of nonsense," said Bruce Tutved (R) - Kalispell.

"Ads are expensive, so more likely than not, if they are disclosing their top donor, you are going to get a flavor of who is effect and whoever is funding the ads." said Buttrey.

Montana Base representatives say the Dark Money ballot Initiative won't have any language about campaign finance limits, just a requirement for any campaign advertisement to disclose the top few donors who paid for the ad.

Not everyone agrees that donor information should be disclosed. One consultant for Republican elections calls this is a "solution to create a problem" - adding that members of Montana Base are hypocritical, trying to hide the truths Dark Money ads reveal.

"This issue has already been litigated and the Supreme Court has decided that's ok. And I guess, if I were these guys and I was in their position of appropriating myself money and doing favors for family with my position I wouldn't want people back home to know what I was up to either," said Jake Eaton, 47 North Communications Partner.

A petition to put the Dark Money Ballot initiative can start to circulate on June 20th. To qualify the initiative for the 2014 ballot, Montana Base will need to collect more than 24,000 signatures. That includes 5% of voters from each legislative district.

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